Battle Tactics: The Battle of the Bastards (TV version)

(SPOILERS for Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire)

I am not a huge fan of the later books in GRRM’s A song of ice and fire, so I have not really delved into the TV show, with the exception of when there is a major battle to watch. This most recent season had the famous battle of the Bastards which was one of the most visually spectacular and exciting battles out there. I loved it.


I have a serious problem with the way that Bolton’s spear wall is portrayed. Take a look at the following pictures:

BoB 1

Big shields and a wall of spears… a strong shield wall ha turned back many a barbarian horde hasn’t it? Note that men can easily fit between the spears and despite the length of the weapon it is only braced by two men.

BoB 3

Some unlucky Wilding gets too close to the shield wall and gets an ugly surprise. Note the long length of exposed wood on these spears.

BoB 2

The size of the forces involved. What happens if all of the Wildlings, fearing death, push in one direction?


BoB 4

Another view showing the relative size of the forces involved. The reaction of any force being squeezed like this is to push back at some point in a desperate attempt to survive.

So the Bolton Spearwall is an odd duck.

  • The shields are enormous individually, but do not gain the strength that a smaller shield overlapping with a neighbors shield would.
  • The spears are a long as some pikes but only have one set of extra hands bracing them and absolutely no support from spears further back in the formation. The main deterrent from pushing into a phalanx is that one is always exposed to more rows of spears, there is no safe channel for men to flow through to get to the shields.
  • Several of the Wildlings are shown making it to the shields. One opens up and delivers a swords thrust to keep the man back. This is great TV, but terrible tactics for a spearwall where it would be far better to ward the front rank with more spears. The sword thrust appears to come from the man in the second rank, which is a pretty long lunge, and that oversize shield looks awful clumsyand hard to get back into place.

I would argue that the Wildlinsg would push back against the shields of the Bolton men. The spear density is just too sparse to stop them and the enemy ranks are too thin to prevent a breakout. Once the mass of bodies is pushing against the shields (which is inevitable, one way or another) it is very hard for the front man to move his shield aside for the man behind him to thrust with a blade. The Romans used shorter, wider shields that they could thrust over.

Some would argue that the Bolton spearwall bears some similarities to medieval spear units, the Roman Legion, or even that the Bolton men are so good or the Wildlings are so unused to formation fighting that they could not get up to the shields to push back.

Fine. What then stops the Wildlings from doing exactly the first thing that leaps to mind when I look at that spearwall: What stops the Wildings from grabbing the spears or hacing the points off? In a true Phalanx the secondary spears could thrust out to prevent this. Nothing at all prevents it in the battle of the bastards. No matter how stupid and fearful the Wildlings are eventually someone is going to hack the head off of one of those spears, or, worse yet, grab them and pull. It would only take three men pulling to overpower the two men holding the spear in the Bolton formation.

The Macedonian Phalanx

The Macedonean Phalanx. One of the pinnacles of formation warfare. The pikes are braced by numerous men and defended by row after row of spear tips that could thrust forward to ward off anyone pushing into the formation. 

Even then a true fanboy could argue that I am wrong and it does not have to turn out that way. A particularly cynical chap might say that they were overawed or low on morale, ready to be slaughtered like animals.

Ok. So what then happens when those spears start pushing into the mass of men and getting weighed down by bodies. Each of those spears would rapidly become useless as it pushes into the packed Wildlings. After it impales a few it becomes a liability as the rest can easily surge over the encumbered weapon and get into the Bolton line before it reforms. In a true spearwall the additional spears could be used to push bodies off, but more importantly they provide immediate replacements when the front spear gets broken, pulled away, or becomes unwieldy due to impaled bodies, there are immediate replacements already in place.

I admit I am being picky. Fans loved the Battle of the Bastards. The problem is many of those fans, like my own stepson, will go on to write their own fantasy tales/shows/games and I do not want to see them compound on this error.


The Reckoning and the Nature of Power in the Domains of the Chosen

Why the Chosen would participate in a system that oppresses the majority of the Gifted?

In my Domains of the Chosen series, the Chosen are the potent, ageless rulers of a sprawling Empire that clawed its way to power after surviving a massive magical cataclysm. The Gifted are those who develop the ability to wield magic, and in the Domains they are considered too dangerous to be allowed to develop their talents freely. The Gifted can choose to become Vassals who are sundered from the most destructive aspects of their magic, or to fight for their right to join the ranks of the Chosen as Gladiators.

The answer, in short, is to view the Gifted as weapons of mass destruction. States with nuclear weapons frown on other states trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, but tend be accepting of those that already have them. This even holds up with enemies: Kim Jong Un is dangerously unhinged and could be a much greater and more lasting threat than Isis, but because seems to have nuclear weapons we must practice detente with him instead of regime change.

The long answer is that the Chosen see other magic-wielders as a threat. The Reckoning began because the powerful Gifted of old began a massive war for dominance. The war was of such impressive scope that new races were created (Armodons and Minotaurs are among these and the created races suffer greater racial stigma in the Domains, because they are the product of magic) and the nations of old were mostly destroyed or became puppet states of powerful Gifted. That war went on and on, ending only when the forces that were wielded spun out of control, resulting in massive storms of Chaotic magic that scoured life from the entire planet and tainted the landscape.

The Chosen represent the Gifted who survived because they set aside their differences (temporarily, for survival) and made a pact with the people with the only safe haven around, Krass. Krass needed the Chosen for extra protection, and to help feed and shelter the massive influx of refugees that made their way to the city. The covenant they made was to the benefit of both groups; people hated the Gifted because of The Reckoning, but they needed them to survive. The Chosen needed shelter and could not survive without people (someone needs to grow food, make clothes, etc).

But The Chosen are not a monumental group. They are old enemies who often trust each other less than than anyone else. Any new Gifted who reaches the status of Chosen, migt be an ally for an enemy faction. Thus they use the Great Games as a way to control who has a shot.

It is also worth noting that by the time any Gladiator has a chance to join the the Chosen they have a large amount of popular support from years of public performance in the Arena, which counteracts the lingering fear of the Gifted for most citizens.

Finally a key point is that the Gift is not hereditary. The Chosen do not have a greater chance of having children with the Gift than anyone else. Thus any Chosen with children has a large chance of having ungifted kids; if they love those kids then they have an automatic desire to protect them from other Gifted. If the Gift were hereditary I expect things would play out very differently, with magical-aristocractic families ruling over ungifted peasant slaves.

In the end it is all about power. We can see the lengths that people go to keep and amass power throughout history, frequently killing their own family members and engaging in horrifying  atrocities. In the Domains of the Chosen, magic is power.

Teaser Tuesday

This week we have a preview from my upcoming book, Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin. It is a involves the Skin Leagues, so be warned.

I am always a little uncomfortable writing sexually tinged scenes, especially those involving the Skin Leagues, a degenerate form of the Great Games where the fighters are required to bare their all for the crowds and put up with other humiliating, exploitative rules in the name of gaining popularity and fandom.

“People of Solvanar, I bring you games!” began Silvius, lifting his arms. The crowd roared lustily. “The Skyclad Leagues offers what the corrupt Faction Leagues, the boring Free Leagues, and the dreadfully unrefined Death Leagues do not. Here handsome Gladiators and delectable Gladiatrices bare all and fight hard for your pleasure! Let the games begin!”

Octavia smiled as Silvius returned. Outside the trumpets sounded and the announcer called the Gladiator forth. She leaned over the railing, watching intently through the privacy screen.

Iron Lance was a large, muscular Shadow-Elf. He was wearing a heavy battle harness, but his impressive manhood was clearly visible underneath the plate protecting his abdomen. He was well-formed, with broad shoulders and barrel chest, a thin waist, and a magnificently muscular physique. His hair was glamoured into long spikes and his skin shone as if freshly oiled.

“Does he usually go into battle so impressively… engorged, Silvius?” asked Noxaia.

“It is a League rule, actually,” said Silvius. “After a few seasons we have found that the crowds have certain expectations regarding appearances. It is part of a complex refinement process that I am very involved in.”

“Hands-on, I am sure,” said Octavia.

Silvius laughed ostentatiously, because he had to, then turned back to Chosen Noxaia.

Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser comes from Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale, first book in my Domains of the Chosen series.


Cover for Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale.

Ravius Vergerus, aka Ravishing Rude Ravius, is a long-time acquaintance of Gavin introduced in a Gladiator’s Tale. His cheerful nature compliments Gavin’s introspective demeanor. He figures into the upcoming book, Bloodlust: Seeds of Ruin as well.

“I’m telling you Ravius: it was luck.”

“No, it was instinct Gavin. We’ve been drilling since we were six years old, little brother. We’ve fought hundreds of training duels with live weapons; moves like that are second nature to us, little brother.” Ravius’s voice dripped cheerful self-assurance; an annoying trait in Gavin’s view. “Your body and subconscious knew how to position the spear even if your conscious mind did not command it.”

“Ravius, I’m pretty certain the Spike Hound impaled itself on my spear accidentally,” responded Gavin, trying to show his exasperation.

Ravius Vergerus was one of Gavin’s classmates from the Campus Gladius, where young gifted were trained in magic and where they both had decided to become Gladiators. He was slightly shorter than Gavin, with a wide tangle of blond hair, dark blue eyes, and always smiling as if the world was one big joke, at least in Gavin’s mind. The two had met Ravius in a pairs training duel when he was fourteen and the other had spent the last three years of training taking Gavin “under his wing”. Ravius was smart, bold, a little egotistical, and always trying to break the quiet Gavin “out of his shell.” Ravius also called anyone he spoke to “little brother” or “little sister”, even if they were larger than he was; this too, irritated Gavin… he had a good two inches over Ravius.

Gavin did not seek his company; Ravius was over-fond of talking and did not seem to understand that some people enjoy quiet solitude, are serious by nature, and that introversion is not an aberration that should be cured. Gavin had hoped that Vergerus would forget about him after graduation, but this was apparently not to be. He’d come to Gavin’s second match and had gone out of his way to help him make a full recovery afterwards. Now Gavin was having trouble reconciling his distaste for Ravius with the fact that the man was showing himself to be a true friend; he was beginning to wonder if his aversion to the blond Gladiator’s friendship was a reflection of his own internal conflicts and not true dislike.

Upon further thought, he resolved to be nicer to Ravius. Perhaps true friendship required that he accept the other person’s foibles. Besides, it would be useful to have a training partner.

Teaser Tuesday

A flashback insight into Ragnar’s past from Blade Breaker (The Shadow Wolf Sagas #1)

Shadow Wolf Cover

The Shadow Wolf Sagas is meant to follow the same structure as a series of detective novels (like the Dresden files if you are a fantasy fan), with the central character appearing in a series of episodic novels that build over time. The central conceit is that little clues into Ragnar’s past and the mystery surrounding it build over time.

They call the place the Spearmarch because the tall pines loom like the pikes of an army alongside the old, well-travelled roads. It was peaceful, deep within the royal Domains and surrounded by the lands of the Great Clans on every side. No one expects an ambush in such a place.

We only had a handful of scouts and outriders. These were overwhelmed instantly. Thus, when the depths of the Spearmarch disgorged a horde of Skraelings fit to overrun an army ten times our size, it stunned me. How could such a thing happen, here in the bosom of our lands? Such was the sense of disbelief that men who would normally throw themselves into danger lost heart. When the enemy charged, shaking the ground under their innumerable boots all seemed lost.

Yet, Siggurd Stormbreaker, the High King of all the North, refused to run. He moved calmly to the front of the army, pushing his way through his protesting Kingsguard, myself the only member of the Shadow Wolf Clan honoured with a position among them in more than a hundred years. His gaze swept the enemy and then he spat dismissively and lifted his sword, Garmsbita, above his head. Invoking the Gods to witness the battle he rallied. His last line, the last words from my king are still clear in my mind.

“Stand with me now brothers and let us show Gods and Ancestors that we are brave and true; Come ruin! Come glory! Come courage and red joy!”

We met them head on, charging into the onrushing horde instead of taking up a defensive position. Thyra was beside me, bright and strong. At first we made great headway. We formed around Siggurd and clove into the screaming, frenzied Skraelings, seemingly unstoppable. Were we not the men and women of the North? Was Siggurd Stormbreaker not the very king who had routed The Devout in his youth?

Bright blades rose and fell, red with blood. The air was thick with the war-shouts of the North and muttered oaths to the Gods of my people. We killed and killed and killed, and although the enemy was all around us, we did not waver.

Then a Murder-Wight, fearsome and fell-handed came upon the High King at the forefront. Dread was the blade it wielded leaving a trail of shadow in the air. It cut down two of the best men among us in a heartbeat and then it was upon the King. They fought and it seemed to me that both armies paused and parted to watch the struggle. The Wight was swift and strong, but the king was hard as iron and battle-wise. A sudden stumble caused my heart to leap, but it was just a ruse. Cunning Old Siggurd caught that terrible sword on Garmsbita and then struck the Wight’s head from its shoulders in a single blow. It was glorious.

For that one moment we felt as if we could do anything. We howled and my voice mingled with that of Thyra screaming next to me. Our weapons were light as air, our armour was unbreakable. Each man that fell was a hero. We pushed on; full of life, all cares forgotten.

Then, just as the enemy seemed sure to break, I caught sight of a shadow behind the High King and then he was gone. There is something broken in my memory of that moment. My mind cannot make sense of the image, and it is as if the identity of the killer was ripped from me. This recollection was no different.

When Siggurd fell, the tip of our spear was blunted. Confusion reigned; and we faltered as word of the king’s death spread like wildfire in dry grass.

The remaining Murder-Wights rallied the Skraelings and drove them forward once more. They pushed into us. We tried to hold, but we could not reform our lines and, as flooding waters will find the holes in a dike, they surged through the gaps. Our formation disintegrated. Men went down, too fast, too many. All those who died were as brothers to me.

We fought in knots, then pairs, then finally alone. For every Skraeling we killed two more took its place. The tide of bodies drew me away from Thyra and my heart fell as a monstrous Wight came upon her, brandishing a smoking red blade in one hand and the heads of my brethren the other. The berserk came upon me then and much of what happened next is lost to me.

Thyra made her name on the field that day. Where most were killed or cursed, she stood her ground and became a legend. The tale of Thyra Hurnsdottir, The Unbroken Spear, of how she and her band of ten guarded the High King’s body from the horde until reinforcements came, is well known. They were they only survivors of the Drajinskyg, the Kingslaying at Spearmarch.

As for me, I remember fighting for what seemed an eternity, consumed by rage and heedless of my wounds. Somewhere along the way, my hand was cut off, but it seemed a small matter then. Then suddenly the berserk ended. The enemy was all around me. A blade blossomed from my chest. My mouth was full of blood. It was impossible to draw breath. Looking back, my eyes met the dead gaze of a Murder-Wight. It tossed me to the ground and the Skraelings closed on me hacking and biting, filling my eyes with red.

I died and rose again, seven days later, dragged out of my grave by wolves, only to be branded a coward and exiled by my clan, despite Thyra’s protests.

RPG Building: Runepunk #1

While considering what to do next of my Thursday serial I came up with the idea of doing a segment on building an RPG (Role-Playing Games). The idea has stuck with me, so I will be posting my musings on creating an RPG occasionally on Sundays.

I am using the name Runepunk for the project, although there is another RPG using that name, I doubt it will conflict with mine.

Why am I doing this?

  • The main reason is that I have been running a Shadowrun 5.0 campaign for several years and the rules are grating on me. Shadowrun is a time-tested game, but it unless everyone is familiar with the sub-systems that are appropriate to their character it slows the game down. In fact, I have stopped using any of the rules beyond character generation, gear, and the basic dice mechanics. Our Shadowrun group is just too large and too inexperienced with the system to handle the system.
    • As an aside, I truly dislike the initiative system. Characters who do not have reflex/initiative boosting are screwed. Not only do they act slowly, they are often ‘lapped’ by faster characters getting in their second and third actions. This punishes people for making non combat character, essentially giving them less turns during action sequences. While it would not be a problem for smaller, more experienced groups, it is here. One of the new RP’ers played an awesome face character, but decided to dump him for a combat character, and I suspect that the lack of turns had something to do with it. He was ok with being less effective, but not pleased with taking less turns.
  • I was considering making a homebrew system for my alternate Saturday game, but we grabbed the new FFG star wars and people seem to love it so far.
  • I love the Shadowrun setting; especially the idea of the Shadowrun itself — the modern dungeon run. On the other hand I find that placing it in the real world limits my creativity. I prefer a blank slate.

What are my goals with the game?

  • The style that I need to run with is episodic with a strong focus on character. I think including narrative hooks in the character creation process will do well for me. Obviously I am also looking for a ‘punk’ setting, which allows the characters to be part of a distinct sub-culture.
  • I need character advancement with enough depth to sustain a long running campaign with complex builds.
  • I want gamified sub-systems that emphasize fun without being too cumbersome.
  • I want an interesting dice mechanic.
  • I want a complex economy that does not break when the characters get too much money. I want players that have a gear fetish to be able to indulge it and players who do not, not to suffer if they ignore it.
  • I would like to have cool powers, but need these to be easy to use and easy to remember.
  • I would like to have sweet monsters and a rationale for dungeon style missions similar to Shadowrun.
  • I would like to have an attribute based system.

Basic Ideas

  • A post-singularity setting. A powerful AI has gained sentience and fundamentally changed the world.
  • The computer creates code that controls the fundamental aspects of reality. The pieces of that Code are Runes and Magic.
  • The AI eventually explodes or runs off the rails, releasing Runes and Magic into the setting and altering the world.